News / Africa

Fistula Surgery Changes Nigerian Women's Lives

JAHUN, Nigeria - One of the health issues shattering the lives of many women across Africa is obstetric fistula.  But in northern Nigeria, a hospital operates and heals women, giving them a new start in life. 

Allowing the patient to live a normal life and giving her back some dignity is the objective of this surgery performed in Jahun hospital, in northeast Nigeria.

Since 2008, the aid group Doctors Without Borders has operated on women with obstetric fistulas, also known as VVF.

The condition is a tear between the vagina and the bladder or the rectum.  It results from a difficult or prolonged childbirth, without proper medical assistance, which provokes tissue necrosis.

Fatima Mohammed gave birth a few weeks ago.

"I spent 2 days in labor, and then I passed out," she said. "I was unconscious for 4 days, I don't even remember which day I gave birth. After I delivered, this is when I started having a VVF and started to leak."

Each month in Jahun, the surgeons hired by Doctor Without Borders operate on about 20 women.  The fistula is not lethal, but causes a permanent incontinence.  Women get soiled, smell bad, and then their lives collapse.  They are often rejected by their husband and pushed aside by the community, as Habsa Musa has experienced.

"Because I was leaking, I thought my husband was going to leave me, because he had spent so much money for me at the Birenenkudu Hospital," she said.

After the surgery, the patients have physiotherapy sessions and a psychosocial follow-up to help them get back into society.  The goal is also to break the taboo over this infirmity: the V V F can be avoided and can be healed, as Jahun hospital's nurse Bilkisou Aliyou explains.

"When they come, we have different type of treatment. because some of them do not even need surgery.  With catheter treatment, they can be fine.  And some of them will undergo surgery and they will be fine," said Aliyou.

But the challenge is still huge.  Each year, 600,000 new cases are detected.  One third of them in Africa.

Patricia Huon is co-author of this report

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